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Old vehicles to go off Kolkata roads
Published on 31 Jul. 2009 11:14 PM IST
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Kolkata commuters are likely to face a harrowing time with all commercial vehicles older than 15 years going off the roads from Saturday following the West Bengal government’s decision to implement the high court’s ban on these vehicles. The Supreme Court Friday refused to stay the Calcutta High Court order banning the pre-1993 make vehicles from the Kolkata roads starting Aug 1, thereby clearing the decks for the state government to seize the forbidden buses, mini buses, taxis and auto rickshaws, which are said to be a principal source of the high pollution levels in the city. In a swift response after the apex court’s stand, the transporters decided that nearly 4,000 buses, 1,000 taxis and the entire fleet of 70,000 autos will stay off the roads from Saturday. “We’ve decided not to run commercial vehicles more than 15 years old in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area from Aug 1,” said Swarnakamal Saha of the Kolkata Metropolitian Bus and Mini Bus Owners Association. Around 9,000 private bus and mini buses move on the city roads daily. Taxi Bachao Committee (Save Taxi committee) president Bimal Guha told IANS that about 6,800 of the 37,000 taxis that ply in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area come under the ban. “Of them, 5,800 taxi owners have applied for replacement. But the government has failed to make available the replacement vehicles by talking to Hindustan Motors. So, about 1,000 taxis will not ply,” Guha said. Auto operators say of the 65,000 auto rickshaws (35,000 of them illegal), only 2,300 have been converted into four-stroke LPG mode. “The court has not banned two-stroke LPG mode autos. But it the government which is insisting that only autos with four-stroke engines will be allowed. So, almost the entire fleet of autos has to remain off the roads,” said auto union leader Tapan Agasthi. A top transport department official said there was no way the government can go soft. “It is the court order and we have to implement it. Transport department officials, police and motor vehicles department officers will carry out operations all across Kolkata Metropolitan Area to ban these old vehicles,” said Transport Secretary Sumantra Chowdhury. “We have also decided to run commercial vehicles through government franchise if the operators decide to go on strike,” Chowdhury said. The common people, who are bracing up for tough times on the roads, feel the withdrawal of the vehicles will make the city’s air purer, but are also worried how they will commute in the coming days. “These vehicles should be withdrawn. They are responsible for pollution. New vehicles will meet the emission norms better,” said Sreemoy Mukherjee, a school student. “School students will be harassed. There will be less number of vehicles on the roads. If the authorities start checking all vehicles, then we will be delayed on the roads,” said Swapan Chowdhury, a bank employee. Swati Sen, a school teacher, said it would have been better had the vehicles been removed in a phased manner. “The problem is because all these vehicles are being debarred at one go. The government should have announced a two-year or three-year roadmap for this and then moved the court with the suggestion,” she said. Trinamool Congress chief and Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee also said that the withdrawal should be done in phases, but questioned how government departments like the police as also the Kolkata Municipal Corporation were running 15-year-plus vehicles. “The law should be the same for everybody,” she said, pointing out that one million people comprising the transport operators, workers and their families will be affected due to the ban. “I support the environmental concerns. But the economic condition of these people will also have to considered. Maybe the government can try out using LPG cylinders in these vehicles to meet the emission norms,” she said. The Calcutta High Court in July 2008 ordered a ban on commercial vehicles registered before Jan 1, 1993 from Kolkata and its outskirts. It said the order should be implemented by Dec 31, 2008 in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area, which includes parts of North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly districts. Later, the date for imposing the ban was put off till July 31, 2009, following a government plea. SC refuses to suspend phasing out old vehicles The Supreme Court Friday refused to suspend a Calcutta High Court order, directing the phasing out of all commercial vehicles older than 15 years from the metropolis to check pollution. A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam refused to stay the July 2008 verdict of the high court saying it would hear the matter Tuesday. The high court had ordered the West Bengal government to phase out 15-year-old commercial vehicles from the municipal limits of Kolkata within a year. The deadline ends Thursday and city transporters, who oppose the order, have called for a strike from Saturday. In a last ditch effort, the transporters have come to the apex court to challenge the high court ruling, but the apex court deferred the hearing to next week. Kolkata has 6,500-odd buses and mini-buses, out of which around 2,830 are more than 15 years old.

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